By Ivan Rybakov
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we experience more stress than usual, and if we feel its adverse effects more than usual. The official data presented by the Russian science academy shows that every third Russian experience anxiety and every fourth had symptoms of depression during the outbreak. We can’t discuss the influence of stress-related factors on the level of absentees, but we can suggest the importance of stress, depression, and anxiety on presenteeism like new and actual metrics for distant workers.
The International Organization of Perk and Benefits (IOBP)  published a list of stress prevention practices common in Russia. Most of them are identical to international practices but some of them are unique to the region. In this article, we will specifically discuss those practices as well as the international ones.
Stress management at workplace in Russia according to IOBP
In order from most to least popular:
- communication companies for the workforce
- employee assistance programs
- discussion of stress-related problems in the workplace with managers
- online health fairs
- gamification with platforms (wellbeing challenges)
- stress-assessments in workplace
- financial wellbeing programs
- first aid mental health courses for employees
- relaxation and recreation zones
- fatigue management (sleep practices)
Communication campaigns for the workforce
Goal: to raise attention to wellbeing and prevent negative external effects, increase awareness about wellbeing problems, and engage employees in other preventive events.
Our experience and local research show that the engagement of more than 80% of employees will have a positive effect on the wellbeing program effectiveness.
Practice: the best communication practice is to use the European Association of Social Marketing standard. That Standard has ten steps to implement a communicational program. Proper communication can influence informational awareness, cognitive sets, and behavior patterns.
Example: In my opinion, many companies can enhance the quality of the wellbeing program through improving communication.
One of the best cases – Finish energy company Forum, which has branches in Ural and Siberia. After the implementation complex of wellbeing programs, it engaged more than 80% of employees, decreased the level of absentees, and won wellbeing prizes like the program (between other Fortum’s branches).
Employee assistance program
Goal: Local EAP provider “Ponimayu” published that utilization of services increased by 80% during an outbreak. Employee’s experienced the following problems: personal problems and family issues, aggressive behavior, health problems, stress, depression, anxiety, personal relations, financial issues, burnout, COVID-19 outbreak.
Practice: The first EAP provider opened in 2009 in Russia. Right now, we have more than ten providers who specialized in that area, psychological assistance lines of insurance companies, and government institutions who have mental first aid lines. They provide different services: health coaching, psychological consultations, financial and low consultations.
Example: Hewlett Packard Enterprise implemented EAP in Russia and reported that it decreased the level of turnover by more than twice.
Online health fairs
Goals: Before the pandemic, health fairs were one of the most popular wellbeing practices. High level of participation and satisfaction (health fairs help people save travel time since all the specialists are located in one place).
Practice: Before the pandemic, each health fair included the promotion part (informational material and mini show), screening part (clinical or functional), and educational part (presentation from the specialist on the topic of the health fair). During the outbreak due to safety measures, the promotion part was canceled. Online health fairs include online screening (for example, RIA Age, which can show biological index and nudge people to behavior change) and webinars.
Examples: Different national studies show controversial data on effective workplace wellness programs, but some show efficacy of health fairs in a complex well-being program against presenteeism. For example, programs in VEB.RF (a bank), OMK (steel and iron company), etc.
Gamification of wellbeing programs (wellness challenges)
Goal: The platforms for workplace wellness (Inkin etc.) engage in an average of 20-30% of the total quantity of workforce. Like we saw in the example of Shell company, the wellness gamification increases physical activity by 70% but only for a short period (less than six months). But we got better (and more sustainable) results during NLMK steel and iron company.
Practice: NLMK program includes different core components:
- gathering the physical activity information
- micro education for health behavior at the platform
- incentives for effective behavior change
- personal lessons and challenge depends on wellbeing score
Example: The NLMK did their program with the Health Balance application. They integrate gamification and wellbeing champions that help achieve long-term results – two times fewer smokers (decreasing from 13% to 7%), less obesity by 7,5%, and more physical activity and satisfaction. The Russian association of management  named her the best Well-being program in 2020.
Practice: Health Balance application with they integrate gamification and wellbeing champions features help to achieve excellent results – decreasing level of smoking among the employees ( from 13% to 7%), less obesity by 7,5%, and more physical activity and overall satisfaction with the quality of life.
Indeed, we have randomizing research that shows the effectiveness of the wellbeing programs on behavior change, but not for decreasing medical claims and return on investment. But we shouldn’t regret that if we are going to create effective practices to implement and analyze them. The results of each practice depend on the professionalism of the staff, the proper design of the preventive program, etc. If we implement high-quality well-being practices at the workplace, then it will increase productivity, the overall level of employee satisfaction, decrease the stress level, and help support people in the workplace.